They helped fight off the Imperial Japanese Navy at Guadalcanal and half a century later kept the peace in East Timor.
They were also New Zealand's first search and rescue helicopters.
Now, the stories of No. 3 Squadron RNZAF will be documented in a new book. It will give a complete history of the famed squadron, formed in 1930 at Wigram, Christchurch.
Aviation historian and former 3 Squadron communications operator Paul Harrison has been commissioned to write the book Seek & Destroy. It will give a complete history of the squadron, now based at Ohakea, but will concentrate largely on the past 50 years.
The Air Force received its first Bell Iroquois helicopters in 1965, which remain in service.
The adaptable, multi-use choppers have been used as "battlefield taxis", for peace-keeping missions, Department of Conservation jobs, and in the days before Westpac Trust rescue helicopters for search and rescue operations.
"A 20-year-old pilot in command of an Iroquois helicopter would fly off on a job, and then interact directly with the person on the ground — an Army major who wanted troops moved; a police constable doing co-ordinating search and rescue; a DoC guy who wanted stuff lifted into the backlands; Customs officers doing drugs work. It is a really interesting job," said 66-year-old Mr Harrison from Wellington.
No 3 Squadron RNZAF was set up as one of five provincial territorial squadrons.
In 1942, six Lockheed Hudson aircraft and eight crews were sent to Guadalcanal to fight the Japanese.
During the Vietnam War, 11 pilots were seconded to fly with the Royal Australian Air Force. In the late 1990s and 2000s it had deployments to Bougainville, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.
Its darkest day was Anzac Day 2010, when an Iroquois crashed near Pukerua Bay, on the Kapiti Coast, killing Flying Officer Daniel Stephen Gregory, pilot, 28, Corporal Benjamin Andrew Carson, helicopter crewman, 25, and Flight Lieutenant Hayden Peter Madsen, pilot, 33.
• Seek & Destroy will be published by John Douglas Publishing. It is due out in April next year.